White House Correspondent
President Obama extended an olive branch to congressional Republicans Wednesday, conceding that the midterm defeat "feels bad," but vowing to work with the new GOP leadership in the House to seek collaborative solutions on issues such as the Bush tax cuts, energy legislation and the federal deficit.
"I do believe there is hope for civility. I do believe there's hope for progress," Obama said during a White House news conference. "Our first allegiance as citizens is not to party or region or faction, but to country -- because while we may be proud Democrats or proud Republicans, we are prouder to be Americans."
But for those expecting a president admonished by significant Congressional
and gubernatorial losse
s, Obama offered little in the way of regret. He acknowledged that his administration had not done enough to change the politics of "business as usual" in Washington, saying, "We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how
things were done."
Obama also suggested that his administration had quickly pushed through so much landmark legislation -- including health care reform and the federal stimulus -- without adequate explanation that it left many Americans with the impression that government had become "much more intrusive." But the president maintained that he did not want to "relitigate" the debates of the past -- including those over health care -- and would instead focus on incremental and specific amendments (including a controversial 1099 provision
in the health care bill).
If the president struck any emotional posture in the hourlong press conference, it was one of weary acceptance: for the next two years the administration will be forced to contend with an emboldened GOP that is likely to cede little ground
on the White House agenda. Obama called for an "honest and civil debate" between the two parties, and reminded the country -- and certainly those on the other side of the aisle -- that "no one party can dictate where we go from here."
Outlining his specific priorities in the coming months, Obama focused on extending the Bush tax cuts
for the middle class, comprehensive energy reform, the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell
" policy and the extension of unemployment insurance. He argued that some priorities traditionally garnered bipartisan support, citing education reform, investment in clean technology and infrastructure development.
Throughout his remarks, Obama said it was the economy -- rather than White House policy -- that brought about such widespread losses for the Democrats. Noting that the unemployment rate is still too high and that job creation is still too sluggish, the president said that the midterm results "confirmed that people are frustrated."
Citing his oft-delivered metaphor about the country's economy being akin to that of a car stuck in a ditch, Obama said, "I don't think anybody denies they think we're in a ditch" and that rather than putting the car into 'D' (as in Democrat) or 'R' (as in Republican), he said, "I think what you can argue is we're stuck in neutral."